Lit Blog Link Grab Bag

I have been in a bit of a late August lull of late so content has been sparse. Lacking any particular insight or theme, I thought I would post miscellaneous comments on posts I stumbled upon around the lit blogosphere.

– Amazon Rant? Jason Star is guest blogging over at Sarah’s Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind and he speaks his mind about what he sees as the faults of on-line booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. His gripes come down to two issues:
1) Selling used books alongside new books.
2) Displaying reviews alongside books.
Please read his whole post, but basically Jason feels that these policies hurt authors. As I understand his position, selling used books alongside new ones undercuts the profits of publishers and authors while displaying reviews with the book can unfairly or unduly impact readers buying choices.

Perhaps it is due to the different perspective between reader and author, but I find these complaints quite silly. Basically, Jason is arguing against providing readers with choices and information. I am not sure he realizes it but it is rather insulting to consumers as well. He seems to assume that people are not capable of making wise or informed choices; that if they are exposed to cheap books and bad reviews they will somehow inadvertently hurt the publication of quality books. First of all, the quality question goes way beyond Amazon and any profits it might remove from the system. But more importantly, I am sure intelligent readers can navigate purchases via Amazon without being tempted to always buy cheap used books or being convinced by reader reviews not to buy a book they would otherwise enjoy.


I am not a Libertarian (capital “L”), but I find it troubling when someone argues that consumer choices and access to information should be withheld so producers can make more money. I think the more information consumers have access to, and the more pricing options they have the better it is for the product. In this case that is particularly true, because the important thing is that readers read the work. Exposure to an author’s work in the long run helps the author and the publisher not the other way around. It is the information age people, just go with it.

– The prolific Mr. Birnbaum has yet another interview posted at Identity Theory, this time Kent Haruf. Since I make a habit of announcing my ignorance around here, let me continue by stating that I have never heard of the author of Plainsong which won a National Book Award in 1999. But living in the Midwest I was heartened by his defense of “fly-over country.” To his credit Birnbaum raises the issue of New York centric publishing (by the way KH = Kent Haruf not Kevin Holtsberry!):

RB: I continue to think about the novels that are written on the East coast, close to New York City and the ones that are written in the rest of the country. Somehow the novels on the East Coast have certain predictable, banal problems. They fall into a type that makes them hard to take seriously. I felt like your characters, and in Jim Harrison’s True North, these were characters I wanted to know more about and how they resolve their lives.

KH: Well that’s an interesting generalization. I don’t know how far you can go with that. There is nothing in these books that I am trying to write that is cynical or satiric or ironic. I am not interested in that. There is a place for that. But in my view that is a kind of easy out. You are not really trying to talk about the human condition, which is what I am after. I am trying to talk about, to write about the kind of universal problems that people have everywhere. And I am not interested in being hip or paying any attention to technology or any of that stuff. None of these characters ever talk about cell phones or computers or any of that.

Amen to that!

I was beginning to think that perhaps Mr. Haruf was my kind of guy. But then, as is his wont, Birnbaum veered into politics:

RB: Well, if you don’t have to, you don’t have to. I was getting to your sense of the current political climate in America from where you sit.

KH: I think it’s an absolute disaster. Bush is a privileged ignorant little boy, and he has gotten us into a goddamn mess. If I was a parent and my kid was killed over there, I don’t know if I could ever get over that or forgive him in any way. I was a conscientious objector during Vietnam, and I feel equally opposed to war. I can’t not see how killing someone is the answer to anything. And I think he has made us more enemies in that part of the world than we had three years ago. I can’t see that anything is improving. I don’t know if you saw any of the interview with the Irish TV correspondent [Carol Coleman] recently, she was nailing him: I thought, and he wouldn’t answer her.

I can understand his feelings and emotions given his experience and his opposition to war, even if the “ignorant little boy” part is a bit over the top IMHO, but what really threw me was this:

KH: All these white male protestant guys keep getting elected over and over. Jimmy Carter, he didn’t succeed as a president, but he’s my idea of what a president could be in terms of his character and his abilities and his heart and all that stuff. And in terms of his experience. If you think about him. He came up; he was a farmer. He had been in the Navy. He was a scientist. And a businessman.

Jimmy Carter?!? Jimmy Carter? I could see Jack Kennedy or Thomas Jefferson or even FDR but Jimmy Carter? Why would an writer/artist think that Jimmy Carter would make a good president? I don’t understand this insistence that a certain resume makes for a good President. Heck Hoover had a great resume but you don’t see liberals tauting him as a great president. What about W’s dad? He had a great resume. Let’s face it Carter might be a nice guy, he might even be highly intelligent, but he was a pathetic President.

Now, I won’t hold this against Mr. Haruf or his works because I don’t look for political advice from novelists. I do wonder what he thinks of Senator Kerry. Kerry is a white male but he is Catholic. The young Kerry might appeal to Mr. Haruf’s Vietnam experience and his pacifism, but the current version of Kerry seems intent on being seen as a tough soldier willing to defend America’s interests abroad. Heck, he insists he would still vote for the war resolution “knowing what we know now.” If I had to guess I would think that Dennis Kucinich was his choice . . .

– While I am getting all political, let me just say that, while I understand the impulse, I find this to be lame, unfunny, moralistic clap-trap.

– Along the same lines, let me announce up front that I am what one might call a carnivore. This may seem heartless, and is unlikely to up my popularity with some folks, but I am really not worried about cruelty to chickens at KFC and I think that taking time to write a poem about it is just plain silly. Now, we could have a whole deep discussion about whether animals are sentient beings and about how unnecessary cruelty to animals is a signal of the perpetrators warped soul, etc. But in general I think the PETA people are a bit off and largely a waste of time and money. And this from a person whose pet dogs often seem like his closest and most valued friends.

Well, enough of the random linkage and opinion. I hope to have some more thought out and organized posts in the future. But given my track record don’t hold your breath or anything . . .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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6 Comments

  • People have been picking on Amazon for its used books for some time now, but having reviews available is a new one to me. I can kinda see the POV of someone who doesn’t want 50 copies for $0.01 competing with a new book retailing for $11.00 (and why these people sell them for $0.01, I don’t know), but I totally don’t understand the reviews thing. Maybe all Amazon should give us are horribly manipulated blurbs…

  • People have been picking on Amazon for its used books for some time now, but having reviews available is a new one to me. I can kinda see the POV of someone who doesn’t want 50 copies for $0.01 competing with a new book retailing for $11.00 (and why these people sell them for $0.01, I don’t know), but I totally don’t understand the reviews thing. Maybe all Amazon should give us are horribly manipulated blurbs…

  • The one problem I have with the reviews are the sort of “crank” reviews, e.g., “I hated this book, if you like it you’re an idiot”-type things. I don’t really pay any attention to the reviews anymore, because so few of them offer any well thought out opinions.

  • The one problem I have with the reviews are the sort of “crank” reviews, e.g., “I hated this book, if you like it you’re an idiot”-type things. I don’t really pay any attention to the reviews anymore, because so few of them offer any well thought out opinions.

  • Hey Bill,

    Those crank reviews can be pretty funny at times. A diverting time-killer is to find a famous work of literature that you love and check out the 1-star reviews.

  • Hey Bill,

    Those crank reviews can be pretty funny at times. A diverting time-killer is to find a famous work of literature that you love and check out the 1-star reviews.